While the original Rayman: Raving Rabbids, a Wii launch title, is arguably is to blame for much of the shovelware that eventually found its way onto the system, Ubisoft's minigame compilation was entertaining in its own right. It was the only software at launch, beyond Wii Sports, that really put a spotlight on the motion controls, and did so in a zany, wacky way. On top of that, it introduced gamers to Rabbids, who have proven so popular that Ubisoft has slowly phased Rayman out of the series altogether, since his influence was barely present as the series went on. The strange creatures have proven extremely successful, and their signature "BWAAAA" still, for whatever reason, hasn't grown old.
What has grown old is the gameplay. What started off as a strong franchise in Ubisoft's Rayman: Raving Rabbids eventually fell in line with other cash-ins, with each sequel falling further from grace, only remaining somewhat interesting because of the Rabbids. Even then, the Rabbids have slowly started to lose their appeal thanks to oversaturation in Ubisoft's line-up, hindered even more since they haven't been in an entertaining game in years. Still, the Rabbids remained funny and quirky, and it became obvious that the Rabbids, not the gameplay, were the stars of the series, something that Ubisoft has finally managed to grasp with Rabbids Go Home.
Rabbids Go Home is a drastic departure from what gamers expect from the series. It isn’t a minigame compellation, it doesn’t feature gimmicky controls taking advantage of whatever new peripheral Nintendo is hawking, and it doesn’t focus on multiplayer. Instead, it lets the Rabbids do what they do best: act insane. One night, a Rabbid pointed up at the moon and screamed, which was apparently enough inspiration for the Rabbids to decide that the lunar body was their home. Being the rational creatures they are, a plan was quickly developed to build a gigantic pile of trash to elevate themselves high enough for to return to their home. In order to do so, two Rabbids jumped into a shopping cart and headed off to town, ready to collect stuff to form their heap.
And… yeah, that’s the gist of the story. To get home they need to find “stuff” and throw it into their shopping cart, which plays out like a mixture of Katamari Damacy, Marble Madness, and Super Mario Bros. The game is broken down in to a number of different levels, each accessible from a city overworld, and containing 1000 things to collect. These things take the form of everything you could think of, from traffic cones to dogs. Rolling over objects adds them to the cart, oftentimes after a short cut-scene showing the Rabbids interacting with their newfound loot.
Where it diverges from Katamari is that the shopping cart doesn't actually grow over time, just becomes more full of stuff that can be deposited at Rabbids who are stationed around the levels playing tubas. The Marble Madness influence is obvious when the game takes advantage of physics, and has specific areas that need to be navigated with more precision than is usually asked of a traditional platformer. That said, the platformer influences are also fairly abundant, and the game plays more like Mario on wheels than it does any other genre. So, yeah, things can get a little weird... not that it's a bad thing.
Because the cart doesn’t grow and allow for the Rabbids to reach new places, getting around is more akin to traditional platforming. In a series so deeply rooted in gimmicks, Rabbids Go Home is shockingly lacking when it comes to unnecessary uses for Nintendo’s motion controller. Movement isn’t done by tilting the remote or senseless waggle, but with… the analog stick. The only time motion is used is to execute the Rabbid’s “BWAAA” attack, stunning enemies and literally knocking the pants off of any unfortunate souls the creatures come across. The pointer is used periodically to open doors by launching a Rabbid, but it never feels forced, something that can’t be said about many Wii games. It is also the only multiplayer feature, allowing a second player to launch Rabbids wherever he or she sees fit.
The lack of camera controls can be an issue, since the fixed camera occasionally finds itself affixed to an inopportune angle, but it’s not a regular issue, and usually doesn’t happen during difficult portions of the game. It doesn’t hurt that there really aren’t many difficult portions to speak of. Each level has the Rabbids going off ramps, speeding down hallways, and navigating different areas to collect assorted stuff. While the areas themselves usually look unique, they all play essentially the same, and the difficulty curve is nearly nonexistent. With the exception of “XL” objects that are collected in some levels that change the controls a bit, such as allowing for a triple jump, the gameplay is fairly repetitive, and only remains entertaining in short bursts. Thankfully, the game's target audience isn't the kind of gamer who sits down and blows through a title in one sitting, so odds are this complaint won't really hold it back.
Luckily, the locations visited, as well as the overall tone of the game, prevent the repetitive gameplay from, well, ever feeling too repetitive. Rabbids Go Home’s setting is a near-future dictatorship, something that’s never actually explained, just accepted. It’s eerily reminiscent of Half-Life 2’s City 17, save for the fact that everyone seems complacent with the way the world has turned. To make things more confusing, the soundtrack consists of mostly 1950-60’s songs, and it’s not uncommon to hear Louie Louie piping out of a car’s stereo. It’s utterly perplexing, but extremely fascinating, and while it’s never a focus, it’s interesting enough to make revisiting the same areas less annoying than they might be otherwise.
Other features of the game involve collecting different outfits and customization options for the Rabbids, as well as a Channel that can be installed on the Wii's harddrive to show them off. It's like the Check Mii Out channel... except with Rabbids. Ubisoft will be holding contests to have players design specific Rabbids, something which will be worth checking from time to time to see what insane creations people have come up with. There's also a simple, but utterly adorable minigame that puts a Rabbid inside of the Wiimote. Shaking it, twisting it, and hitting buttons shows up on screen, and while it might be the absolute definition of a gimmick it's hard to stop flailing around and listening to the Rabbid scream from inside the Wiimote. None of these features take the spotlight away from the core game, but both add something more to do once riding around areas becomes tiring.
For the first time since the original, Ubisoft has been able to recapture what made this new, strange series so popular: inanity, and boatloads of it. The newest title is undoubtedly the best, and despite some faults, Rabbids Go Home is a success, and easily one of the best 3D platformer to hit the Wii since de Blob. It's also one of the best looking, with stylized visuals that capture exactly what the Wii excels at. For the first time in years, the future looks bright for the Rabbids, and hopefully Ubisoft is able to use this momentum to continue success for the series. Games this weird deserve success.